Celiac Roadtrip, Part 7: Driving Home and Cafe Sol

There are two types of vacations: the relaxing, regenerative "vacas" and the trips that require a relaxing vacation afterwards. Our roadtrip from California to Colorado started as the first, but by the time we re-glued our butts to beige leather, we were salivating at the thought of being back in sunny San Diego.

When we finally drove out of our rental house, van creaking under the weight of our food, luggage and souvenirs, it felt surreal. It's strange how hard we fell for Colorado in such a short time. Within a mere four days, we transformed from California foreigners gawking over deers walking along the roadside to hiking, outdooring, exploring lovers of every Colorado mountain and valley.

The oasis we discovered on one of our hikes...
I joked to my parents that, after the delicious all-gluten free meal at Coquette's, I was biased in my opinion of Colorado. Even discounting my satisfied taste buds, though, Colorado won my heart without a problem.

Nonetheless, our time was finally up and we were ready to get the drive over with. We followed a similar eating strategy as our drive to Colorado, devouring our leftovers from Red Robin for lunch. Oh, the hardship! For dinner each night, I instead relied on my trusty phone app, "Find Me Gluten Free." Chick Fil A won on one night, and I purchased an extra salad for the road. Out of all of our return eats, though, Cafe Sol at Grand Junction will always have a special place in my stomach.

Sunny Cafe Sol!
Cafe Sol is a panini, soup, and salad shop on Main Street. Surrounded by modernist statues (like cement gorillas across the street or a metal biker at the corner), the charm of the bright yellow shop is only compounded by its inside decor. Lanterns, lime green walls and a huge herb garden in the corner of the store? Cafe Sol isn't kidding when it claims to be local, fresh and gluten free friendly.

By the time we drove into Grand Junction, hunger replaced our driving fatigue and we wanted nothing more than to grab the food and go. Luckily for us, Cafe Sol has a to-go option. My dad and sister quickly chose the Chicken Guacamole Panini and the Club, served with (gluten free) BBQ chips. Mom and I took longer, drooling over the 99% gluten free menu. In the end, we both ordered a panini-salad combo, respectively pairing the Chef Salad with the Club and Ahi Tuna Panini.

All the gluten free choices!
The server was extremely familiar with celiac disease and confidently answered all of my questions about cross contamination, sandwich bread and toppings. Sadly (cue crocodile tears), Cafe Sol doesn't have a gluten free dedicated panini-press, so to avoid cross contamination, I had to opt out. They offered to toast my panini in the oven, though, which worked for me!

In the end, we waited about 25 minutes for our order to be ready, each salad and panini packaged separately in a labeled cardboard box. Anytime I see "GF" on my order, reciept or to-go box, I'm one happy girl!

Proof is in the marker!
The food didn't last long, dissappearing soon after we settled in our hotel. First off, the portions were huge! The paninis were the size of a hardback library book and our "small" Chef Salads boasted enough hearty toppings to satisfy a Colorado grizzly. We all stuffed ourselves silly and still had half of our meals for the road the next day. Talk about a score!

Now, for the actual food. Because I didn't use the panini press, my bread lacked the traditional black grill marks. Yet, when I first bit into the combo of multi-grain GF bread, seared 5-spice ahi tuna, orange ginger slaw, cucumber and dynamite sauce, I couldn't have been happier. The tuna was cooked just enough to not be raw, but still tasted juicy. The cucumber and orange ginger slaw added a strong crunch and the unique kick of the sauce tied it all together.

The gluten free panini!
My Chef salad was equally delicious. I ordered my salad without the egg, but I didn't miss it. The mixed greens tasted extremely fresh and they'd piled on the bacon, turkey, ham, provolone cheese, and sherry dijon vinegrette. With the extra avocado I added, it tasted perfect!

The rest of my family were equally impressed, with my sister drooling over the "donut-like bread" and gluten free BBQ chips (which, I test-tasted and gave two thumbs up) and my Dad loving the hearty combo of avocado and chicken breast.

Despite the vacation fun, by the time we walked into our Cali house, we were ready to be home. (Or, in my case, I was ready for free access to my kitchen and gluten free ingredients! Pancake craving, finally solved!). As I've reflected on our 10 day adventure, remembering the food, the family and the fun, I'm beyond grateful. I climbed mountains and saw bears. I devoured gluten free pizza and White and Black cake. And, I discovered local restaurant gems like Cafe Sol that serve up kick-butt, allergen-friendly feasts.

Besides the food, though, my favorite part of Cafe Sol was its bathroom (as weird as that sounds). I went in to wash my hands and left with fingers coated in a light dust of colored chalk. The whole bathroom boasts gray chalkboard paint littered with the chalk scrawl from dozens of strangers. Picking yellow, I added my own slogan to the mix: Be happy.

KC - that's me!
If my first vacation away from home since my celiac disease diagnosis taught me anything it's that finding happiness - whether in a gluten free chicken pot pie or during an adventure to the Manitou Cliffs - is the most important mission of all.

*Also found at RunningwithSpoon's link party!*

How did your first vacation/roadtrip after a food allergy/celiac diagnosis go? Have you ever had a panini? Comment below!


  1. COLORADO! I used to live there, but now I live in SoCal! ha ha! I am gluten, dairy, sugar, wheat, soy, nut, fruit and egg free - so road trips for me are interesting, but give me a hunk of meat, and I am good to go! ;)

    1. Haha! That's funny. Maybe we'll end up doing a switcha-roo. And I love your attitude! Gotta laugh or you'll cry! :)

  2. The first trip came soon after diagnosis-- diag on 9/11/2013 and trip starting 10/10. The trip was a long-planned visit to India. We notified our Delhi travel agent of my new challenge and he notified the places we were staying, which were either high-class hotels or bed & breakfast (or full board) inns. We had almost five weeks of okay to outstanding food and I only got glutened once (a rice dish cooked in a sealed pot; it was sealed with a flour dough). I was apprehensive all the way, but Indian food is not as big a problem as many cuisines. In one hotel we were greeted by the manager (who had obviously received notice of my gluten-free requirement), and when we told him that we liked Indian food, he said "then it will be no problem". In most of the hotel restaurants we talked to a chef and I got guided through the menu or the buffet line. Most of them had gluten free bread available at breakfast. We had a few meals on the road between stops, but mostly I ordered ordinary Indian dishes that would not have gluten components and asked if my choices would be okay. A couple of times there didn't seem to be anyone around who understood the problem and I had to wing it, but lucked out with my educated guesses. It was an adventure food-wise, but I was only on the Imodium for three days (after that rice dish), so I considered it a blazing success. But in that month post diagnosis before the trip started, I really wondered what I was getting myself into.

    1. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing your story and I'm so glad that your trip worked out for you! It's definitely super scary during the planning stage (and even sometimes during the eating stage!), but the exerperiences, food adventures and fun definitely makes it worth it! :)

  3. Thoroughly enjoyed reading about your celiac road trip journey on this blog, Casey! The ups and downs of traveling with celiac are so relatable. By the way, if you ever face any car troubles during such trips, especially with the suspension, I'd highly recommend checking out this suspension shop. They've been excellent in ensuring my vehicle is always road-trip ready. Safe travels and keep sharing your adventures!


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